J-WAFS to host inaugural conference

Friday, April 15, 2016

Program will feature advances in technologies at the nexus of food, water, and the environment.

Abdul Latif Jameel, World Water and Food Security Lab
Originally appeared on MIT News on April 13, 2016

The Abdul Latif Jameel World Water and Food Security Lab (J-WAFS), MIT’s Institute-wide initiative to coordinate and lead research related to water and food access, will hold its first major event on April 27 and 28 in collaboration with the MIT Industrial Liaison Program.

The program will feature advances in technologies at the nexus of food, water, and the environment. With an emphasis on the roles of innovation and collaboration, the conference will underscore J‑WAFS’s commitment to pursuing research and innovation activities that have the potential to positively impact the world through improvement of food and water supplies and systems.

Launched in 2014, J-WAFS has funded more than $2 million in research in 11 departments across MIT’s five schools. Many of the funded projects are interdisciplinary — for instance, combining engineering disciplines with urban planning, or involving science faculty collaborating with researchers at the MIT Sloan School of Management.

J-WAFS is named after the late Abdul Latif Jameel, father of 1978 MIT alumnus Mohammed Abdul Latif Jameel, who established the lab with a major endowment in 2014, and in 2015 made another substantial award to launch the J-WAFS Solutions Program. Mohammed Abdul Latif Jameel had previously endowed the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL) at MIT in 2005, and in 2009 gave another substantial gift to J-PAL.

“I’m very pleased to see the lab launching this conference to discuss the advances made in creating new sustainable technologies related to water and food security,” Mohammed Abdul Latif Jameel says. “Developing and commercializing disruptive technology are key to addressing water and food insecurity, and J-WAFS is committed to continuing to explore the power of science and technology to positively impact millions of lives.”

Speakers will present on advanced technologies for water, food, and agriculture, including sensors for food safety; water purification technologies; and bioengineering for agriculture and food processing. For example, Rohit Karnik, an associate professor of mechanical engineering at MIT, will talk about research his lab is conducting on novel nanostructured materials for water purification, and Professor Christopher Voigt of MIT’s Department of Biological Engineering will speak about his J-WAFS-funded research on engineering nitrogen fixation in grains. Other sessions will address risk management around agricultural supply chains in the context of globalization and climate change, and other topics related to food and water security.

Three keynote speakers will talk about different aspects of the role of technology development and industry collaboration in addressing worldwide water and food security. Ralph Jerome, vice president of innovation for Mars Incorporated, will open the conference with a keynote talk on “The Global Water/Food Connection in a World Pushing its Limits: Grand Challenges for Industry and the Role of Innovation.” Kavita Prakash-Mani, the executive director of Grow Asia — a new partnership launched by the World Economic Forum — will talk about the role of multisector partnerships in providing opportunities for the development of new technologies and markets.

Opening the second day of the conference will be Tim Prewitt, CEO of International Development Enterprises, which works to increase the adoption of affordable technologies that can increase crop productivity in developing countries, and promotes crop diversification and the development of new markets. He will speak on

“Closing the Yield Gap: Technology Adoption Where There Is No Home Depot.” Following sessions will present advanced technologies for agriculture and food production and processing.

The conference will also include a startup showcase, featuring over 20 MIT-related and other local early-stage companies in water, food, and agriculture, and a poster session highlighting J‑WAFS seed grant projects and J‑WAFS Solutions projects. J-WAFS Solutions is a program that funds the commercialization of MIT technologies for the food and water sectors.

The conference may appeal to professionals in the food and water sectors, particularly those in research and development, corporate sustainability, environmental services, food safety, and procurement/supply chain functions. Further program and registration information can be found at ilp.mit.edu/conference.jsp?confid=136.